“What do we want [fill in the blank] when do we want it [blank,,, but sooner preferably to later]”.
And so the old chant goes. The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper is expected to be released tomorrow. Anticipate the first blank to be filled with a list of things Australia can’t really afford or doesn’t really need (at least another Air Warfare Destroyer, at least a few Super Hornets as a ‘filler’ for delayed JSF F-35’s, where it appears to be the case that in terms of the price, the sky literally is the limit), or for domestic political purposes won’t determine where they will come from (think- Australia’s submarine odyssey, I cant see why a feasibility study is even necessary, Australia excels at many things; building and maintaining reliable submarines really isn’t one of them). Expect the second blank to be, well non too committal.
There are two issues that will stymie the overall effectiveness and utility of the 2013 Australian Defence White Paper: This White Paper will largely remain overshadowed by the failings of its predecessor, the 2009 Defence White Paper (which was a debacle) that promised much and delivered little and that an anticipated likely change in Australian Federal Government in September this year will likely lead to a decision to produce a new Defence White Paper- rendering this one redundant soon anyway.
But an even bigger failure, than what has been cited above, and a problem that looms large over Australian Strategic Defence Planning is the failure to ask the precursor to ‘what do we want’ and ‘when do we want it’- that being: ‘what do we want to be able to do’ and ‘where to we want to be able to do it’, followed by ‘what can we afford‘ and ‘what can we afford not to do‘?
The key aspect absent from Australian Strategic Defence Planning is vision and this may, or may not, be linked to an inability to look beyond Australia’s ANZUS alliance reliance, the ANZUS alliance being a factor which will feature prominently in tomorrows White Paper I am sure. I also anticipate the ground will be set for a larger US ‘foot-print’ on Australian soil, and perhaps in our waters, in the not too distant future- however, we will just have to watch this space and wait until tomorrow on that front.
For Australia to produce a Defence White Paper of substance, of value and worth, something with ‘teeth’ it must grapple with and set out to answer these paramount questions as its starting point; a failure to do so in combination with the factors above will likely render the 2013 Australian Defence White Paper, and any future Defence White Paper for that matter, a ‘toothless wonder’.
Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security Studies from the University of Sydney and has interned for the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, Sydney. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or Follow on Twitter @bwmoles